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Negotiations to End Zimbabwe Strike Fail

  • Peta Thornycroft

Wage negotiations between Zimbabwe's government and civil servants broke down Wednesday and many public workers - teachers in urban areas, in particular - say they will continue their strike for better pay. The public service strike is the first serious work stoppage by government employees since the inclusive government came to power three years ago.

Zimbabwe's unity government has offered public workers a $240 million package which would mean an average salary increase of $87 a month for the government's 230,000 employees. Workers are demanding a much bigger raise that would take their basic wage from $250 per month to $538.

The latest government offer was rejected by the public service trade unions. Teachers make up about a third of the public work force, and most of them, especially in urban areas, began to strike Monday.

Veteran trade union leader Raymond Majongwe, who leads the Progressive Teachers' Union, said the government has only recently agreed to collective bargaining for wage disputes. He said when the unions met with government representatives on Wednesday, the government side failed to conduct professional negotiations.

“If we are going to go through a proper collective bargaining program, let it be done the normal way," said Majongwe. "It is done so each side produces a position paper. Each side is there representing concerns.”

He also accused public servants who continued to work of being corrupt.

Education minister David Coltart has regularly said he wants teachers to be paid more.

But Finance Minister Tendai Biti says Zimbabwe’s cash economy cannot afford an increase in salaries. He said it cost $300 million to meet public service salaries and year-end bonuses last November.

While Zimbabweans have regularly demonstrated commitment to education for their children, few are blaming teachers for going on strike.

One parent in Harare said teachers have the responsibility to shape children’s lives and should be paid a living wage.

“These are people who are offering a national duty to the nation," said the parent. "Let us look at teachers. They have to develop our children to become leaders, entrepreneurs and then you give them a slave wage. It should go with the integrity that goes with the profession.”

Trade unions said civil servants would strike until Friday. Since negotiations broke down Wednesday, the trade unions have not revealed whether the strike will continue next week.